Dictation: A Month In

Yes, I’m well aware this post has MAJOR typos in it. That’s on purpose. I dictated it and wanted to show you what it looks like when you dictate to Dragon Naturally Speaking. So, with apologies to Monica Leonelle for misspelling her name…

Dictaphone operatorwell, I haven’t abandoned Dragon yet. but I’m not an editor’s blog post so you could see what some of the challenges are. I know I talked about not listening to Pandora while I’m dictating, but I’m writing this on Saturday night. If I’m alone in Saturday night, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit around with no music on. That’s just inhuman.

But even with the music off, there are still some challenges using dictation. Writing space opera, you would think it’s all the made up words. But somehow I find that easy to train into the system. It’s simple things. I tried to say after bomb in a blog post that I dictated earlier today (I’m dictating this on Saturday evening. You’re reading this on Wednesday.) I’m typing this now to show you that I meant “F” bomb. Dragon literally cannot figure that out.

This was an early frustration. It took almost as long to dictate a blog post, a newsletter, or a scene in the novella as it did to type it out. And I had to do less editing typing. But as I’ve gotten used to it, I found that as long as you’re comfortable with it, it really does pick up your speech pretty well.

What’s really weird is I find myself having to remember to say things like “-” or “,”. Yes, I literally said the words of this punctuation marks when I wrote this. As I said, I’m leaving the syntax you can see what it looks like.

What’s amazing, however, is how well Dragon picks up obscure words. In the novella I’m writing, ships on earth are named after secretaries general of the United Nations. Very few of these men had names that roll off the English tongue very well. In fact, the only one I can think of was later found out to be a Nazi war criminal. (And no, there is no Starship Kurt Waldheim. that’s just not going to happen in my universe.) But I had another ship called the Dag Hammarskjold. Unlike guard Nazi war criminal Secretary-General, I didn’t Have to tell Dragon how to spell Hammarskjold. It instinctively knew.

It also doesn’t seem to like swearwords. In Broken Skies, a salty old admiral named Eileen Burke says the word “bullshit” a lot. I had to type “bullshit” because Dragon can’t seem to understand it. It keeps typing “bull shipped” or “bull ship.” These are the challenges I have to work with.

And really I need to change my approach to dictation.most people who successfully dictate go back and edit right after they finish. I need to do that more. I’ve already doubled my word count in the month that I’ve been doing this. I’d go even faster if I would just write it and then go through the manuscript when I was done. Imagine dictating three thousand words in forty-five minutes, the time it used to take me to do just one thousand words. Going back and editing out some of dragons quirks probably would only take about ten minutes.

Already this blog post is gone longer than I expected, and that’s because I’m sitting here talking to you and being amused by some of the choices Dragon makes when I speak.

One trick I learned from some writers including Monica Leonel (Sorry, Monica. It doesn’t like your name.) Is using a substitute name or word that I know Dragon can render. Then I just go back and do a search and replace.

I’m not really interested in formatting with Dragon. I know some people use it because typing is an ordeal for them. They have carpal tunnel or arthritis or, in the case of one well-known local science fiction fan, literally has no use of her hands. For these people dictation is a must. For me it’s a means of getting more words out a shorter amount of time. Right now I just have to get more comfortable with speaking what I want to write. I’m sold the point where typing flows much smoother. By the time I finish typing a couple of lines, I really know what I want to say next. By speaking, sometimes I get ahead of myself. And then there are long silences.

But then my neighbors are probably entertained by me screaming at Dragon trying to get it to write what I wanted to write. (By the way that doesn’t help.)

As you can tell, I’m writing this late, and I’m getting sloppy about telling Dragon what punctuation to put in. But this is a really long blog post, and only took me five minutes to write it by dictating it. [If] It had a lot of dialogue, probably would’ve taken me longer.

So, as you can see, dictation is a [not] perfect, but it is a hell of a way to get production now.

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